Google Photos – Is this the perfect photography tool for travelers?

June 5, 2015 |

New-York-City-Skyline-Mark-Dauner - Google PhotosTravelers take a lot of photos – mostly on their phones in this day and age. But what happens to those pictures you take? Where do they go? Do they hang out on your phone until your storage fills up? That’s not very safe. Do you back them up somewhere? Once they’re backed up do you go through them and edit them and label them all? Do you tag them and put them into albums so you can find them easily down the road?

Most of us – me included – can’t keep up with the sheer number of photographs that modern technology allows us to take.

If you do, you’re among a very small group of the worlds most ultra-organized. Most of us – me included – can’t keep up with the sheer number of photographs that modern technology allows us to take. Many services have tried to help with this. Apple’s new Photos offering works with their iCloud service to help you collect and synchronize your photos across all of your iOS and Mac devices. Dropbox has a pretty good solution too. Remember Flickr? They’ll give you a whole terabyte of photo storage for free. Where all of these services tend to fall short, however, is once they’re uploaded and backed up, you still have to spend the time going through them to make sure they’re organized and tagged properly.

Last week at Google’s I/O developer’s conference, a new service was announced called Google Photos. Could this finally be what helps the millions of us who keep snapping more photos but can’t be bothered to tend to the thousands we’ve already taken? The answer is yes. Or at least I think so.

Google has had a photo service for a while now – it was bundled with their Google+ social network. I’ve been a user for a few years, primarily because of how good its photo tools are. You no longer have to sign up for Google+ to get in on the fun. Simply go to http://photos.google.com and sign up using your existing Google account – everybody has one of those, right? You can also get a desktop photo uploader for Windows or Mac and download the mobile app on iOS and Android.

Once you give the ok, all the photos that are currently on your device will get uploaded into the system, where they’re kept private and only available to you unless you choose to share them (more on security and privacy later). If you’re on a capped data plan, you can tell the app to only upload when you’re connected to Wi-Fi to ensure you don’t hit your bandwidth limit.

Here’s where it really gets good.

It will take all the data it has available about everything…and use it to make intelligent guesses about how your photos should be put into albums and organized. The results are extraordinary.

Google will begin to automatically organize these photos. It will take all the data it has available about everything – that’s a lot – and use it to make intelligent guesses about how your photos should be put into albums and organized. The results are extraordinary.

Based on its super sophisticated algorithms and the aforementioned data that they already have and continue to accrue, Google Photos is able to find and identify people that reoccur over and over again in your photos and group them – even if they have significantly aged over time (such as from birth to adult). You can type a phrase like “show me pictures of Paris in the winter time” and it will find your pictures of the Eiffel Tower or the Champs-Élysées with snow in them (assuming you have those). You can search for “cats” and it will pull up only pictures you’ve taken that  – well, I think you get my point.

The search features are just the starting point. Google offers editing tools that allow you to make your photos look great – some of them happen automatically and others you have to adjust yourself, but it’s very easy. It will also take your pictures and use what it knows about them to create things that are extraordinary.

I will often hold down the button on my iPhone to take a series of quick photos in succession, which allows me to then pick the one that turned out the best. I never really did much with those before, but Google takes them and runs with it – stitching those photos together into fun animated GIFs. Here’s one that Google put together automatically from a Motley Crüe concert I was at last year. It will also create really cool timelines that will connect the photos and videos that you took in a certain place or over a certain period of time and put them into a really cool magazine-style format they call Stories. Ryan Gantz at The Verge shared a great story about some of the emotion that Google Photos has created for him, simply by putting together photos and videos in a meaningful way entirely based on what it knows about the world and what it knows about him.

Here’s a Story that Google Photos automatically created using a few snaps I took around Downtown Chicago in 2013. I didn’t do anything to it (click photo to view).

A Google Photos collection taken from snapshots I took in 2013 in Chicago.

For travelers, I can see this being a fantastic tool. Imagine traveling the world, snapping all kinds of photos, and through Google’s use of geolocation and recognition of people, landmarks, weather, etc., being able to show off an awesome photo timeline complete with videos and animated GIFs before you even get home. Maybe you’re in a cafe in Spain and someone steals your bag with your phone in it. It will be a pain to replace the expensive electronics but at least your photos were automatically backed up in the hotel room overnight. Sure, other services do this. I’ve tried them all. None do it quite like Google Photos.

What does all this cost? Nothing. It’s free. If you’re a professional photographer, or at least someone who takes a lot of high quality photos and videos and uses a real DSLR camera or shoots 4K video, then it will cost you Google’s normal rates for cloud storage. You might also want to look into a tool that is geared towards pros if you aren’t using one already. If you’re like most of us who only take smartphone photos and never rise above 16 megapixel images or 1080P videos, you can upload as many photos and videos as you like at absolutely no charge.

If you’re security and privacy conscious (as you should be), you might be asking yourself a few questions about this new free service.

With that said, if you’re security and privacy conscious (as you should be), you might be asking yourself a few questions about this new free service. Marketwatch has a great rundown of the tradeoffs you may have to make for storing your photos for free with Google. After reading that and perusing the terms of service around Google Photos, you can decide for yourself whether or not this great new service is worth the potential privacy concerns. I think it is. As with any cloud services, be careful about what you upload. Don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing in public if you absolutely had to. You should also use strong, unique passwords and other security tactics such as two-factor authentication. If you follow this advice I think you will get a lot out of Google Photos.

What do you think about Google Photos? Try it and let me know what you think! And now you have a place to keep and share your photos, let’s look at the quality of those photos. Check out Emily’s guide to better smartphone photography.